A blank stare with wide eyes on a face turned at a slight angle, followed by an impatient sigh — the look that begs me politely to stop talking about recruitment. My friends who didn’t rush stare at me as I explicitly betray my original convictions: that I would never use the word “woman” to describe a girl who still lives off her parents’ income, that I would avoid frustratingly exclusive terms like “pref’d” and “sisters,” that I would never become obsessed with sororities. Suddenly, I’m praising what I originally avoided. What changed?
Unfortunately, less than it seems. The next day — or hour — often includes equally long monologues filled with my intense doubts. Although most girls talk incessantly about sororities when they love them, I wish my Mean Girls-style word vomit had that simple of a cause. The problem is I don’t know what I think about sororities — and I can’t shut up about it.
Flashback to Jan. 3, 2012: the night of the required recruitment forum. Perky smiles pierce my skin like the frigid air outside; carefully selected outfits make my sweatpants look even sloppier; high-pitched voices further a pre-existing headache. I scan the room and see familiar faces of people I admire and respect. Judgment soaks through me like a wet sponge: “She’s rushing? I didn’t think she was one of those girls.” I walk out that night cursing Greek life.
I never planned on rushing before I got to Northwestern. My experience with sororities was limited to Baylor’s KKG rap — skinny, white girls giggling about their appeal to frat guys and their “classy” love bonds formed by cultish conformity. I assumed the lack of diversity in the video represented all sororities: exclusive, wealthy and self-centered. I had no avenue for breaking those stereotypes. My high school friends didn’t rush. My mom rushed but only had horror stories. And my boyfriend shared a common opinion with the rest: I was not a sorority girl.
Although I sent quizzical glances around the room, doubting even the morality of the girls in the forum meeting, I was equally involved. If my hatred of all things sorotastic was so persuasive, then why was I one of those girls I disdained?
Like most on-and-off relationships, mine with sororities before formal recruitment was rocky. Half the time, I actually wanted to join. My negativity came from experiences before Northwestern, and its lingering ferocity only decreased post move-in. I knew immediately that the sororities here were different, but there was so much opposition from back home and my misconceptions remained.
The attitudes of my close friends at Northwestern pushed me to the point of enthusiasm: Since I liked them and they liked sororities, maybe I would like them as well! These girls I loved spoke highly of support systems, career opportunities, philanthropy events and sincere friendships unique to Greek life. Committing to an open mind against the humiliatingly stern stereotypes I harbored, I signed up for Preview in November and officially began to consider a future in a sorority.
Flash forward to the night after forum ends: sitting on a couch ranting my frustrations. As I am ready to trample the flag of sororities, she convinces me to give recruitment a shot. She says all the right things: Why reject something that you may love without trying it first? Maybe you’ll walk away with some great stories. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself.
I’ll try to limit, for once, my summary of recruitment to a brief description: It went wonderfully for me. That weekend was an overwhelming period of clarity where I could see myself as a sorority girl, for the main reason that my stereotypes were clearly inaccurate. Scholarships exist and the chapters are extremely diverse. I made friends in my recruitment group, the individual houses and eventually in my own chapter whom I would have never met otherwise. Coming from a small family as an only child, I began to love the idea of living in a sorority house, a large family. I felt comfortable and accepted among girls seeking a similar college experience — to be surrounded by a warm community and be a part of something greater than the university, which is the great part about national sororities. My relaxed attitude made it so I did not think too hard about being myself, so I found places that were very accepting of the real me. I was happy during recruitment and grew to love the idea of sororities.
Most importantly, recruitment forced me to confront who I think I am and who I want to be. That’s where the trouble starts.
Now I am back to where I started: a confused pledge overwhelmed with how quickly my opinion has changed who feels pressured to make a decision. My first ceremony was the night after I received my bid. Choosing my all-white outfit, I looked down at my foreign apparel and back up to my roommate, whose opinion I’d asked. I never let myself worry about an outfit during recruitment — what changed? Moments like this where I realized my situation made me erupt into fits of questions, doubts, aspirations and excitement. This jumbled mess of indecision was at five minutes to midnight.
I want to make one thing clear — the girls in my sorority have only added weight to the “pro” side of the scale, rather than the con. It would be easier if I did not get along with the girls in the chapter or my pledge class. Instead, my fundamental conflicts with sororities dominate: Am I buying, with money that is already low, friends I could meet otherwise? Do I have time in my already busy schedule? Do I approve of the selection process?
Even though I praise Northwestern’s decision to limit freshmen to winter rather than fall recruitment, I still do not feel like I am well prepared enough to make this major social, financial and emotional decision. A good friend summarized it well as she commented on her decision to quit recruitment: How am I supposed to choose the right community when I don’t even know myself?
It sounds pathetic to compare the decision to pledge to my college decision, especially because one can retreat from Greek life more easily, but the two are comparable. Both are largely individual choices that require deliberation, guidance and self-awareness that will affect you for the rest of your life.
Overall, I encourage girls to experiment with the recruitment process as it is a different way to meet incredible people, learn about yourself through constant conversation and experience a unique American cultural phenomenon. But when it comes to my advice on whether to pledge, I’ll say nothing. If I can’t decide for the person I know best, then I don’t have the right to try for anyone.